Dating After Separation or Divorce

Sarah McKennon   10-2-16

Separation or divorced parents eventually consider how soon they want to begin dating and what they are looking for in a new mate. I do not recommend parents introduce children to a perspective partner as a new “dating partner” until they know the person is a “safe” person and the relationship is serious. At a minimum the parent should know the basic background information of the dating partner: full name, address, place of employment, car types, three acquaintances, and location of nearest relatives. As well the parent will want to consult and establish with their co-parent regarding agreed upon interactions with dating partners (children alone time, spending the night, dating partner driving children, etc.). One profoundly important aspect of a dating partner’s qualities is how he or she relates to the children. This can determine how the child will react to the parent dating.

Every child will react in his or her own way to a parent’s dating after the separation or divorce.1394240_662246590476506_686509457_n Knowing your child will always help you better understand what may be going on for him/her.

Research suggests how children in general are affected by parental dating after separation or divorce.

• When a parent begins dating, a child’s hope that his/her parents will reunite may be shattered.
• The child must now share you – which isn’t so easy to do.
• It is very awkward for children to adjust to having an adult who is not their parent acting in a parenting role.
• Children may experience loyalty conflicts between biological parents and new partners.
• Children may fear future rejection if the new relationship doesn’t last.

On a more positive note, parental dating after separation or divorce can also offer benefits to children.

• Happier parents in better moods.
• A role model of a happy adult relationship.
• New people who care about them.

Dating partner qualities that will likely be important to both parents include:

1. Willingness to defer his or her own needs when the children’s needs should come first.
2. Willingness to be introduced into the children’s lives slowly.
3. Ability to relate to children in an age-appropriate manner, about age- appropriate topics, respectfully without being patronizing, in how they interact with children in activities, and how they use their power in adult/child relationships. Positive use of this power is; complimenting a child on his or her behaviors and abilities. Misuse is; if an adult belittles or denigrates a child. 4. Willingness to accept the children as they are not holding expectations for them to adopt the dating partner’s likes and dislikes.
5. Willing to explore the children’s interests as an important bonding experience.
6. Patience with the children’s resistance to a new parental relationship.
7. Accepting his or her role as the adult by being patient with a child’s regressed behavior.
8. Accepting any disciplinary response will come from the biological parent, and not the dating partner.
9. Understanding the biological parent needs to continue using past rules and ways of enforcing them.
10. Willingness to accept limits to the affection expressed between dating partner and parent in front of the children. Recognizing physical affection is an important indicator of the nature of a relationship to children and others.
11. Willingness to let the parent determine how to relate to the co-parent regarding their children. Understanding the most important task parents have is to finish raising their children as cooperatively as possible.
12. Supports the parent’s parenting style.
13. Flexible to spontaneous schedule changes of family.
14. Understands the sadness of the parent due to being separated from one’s children because of split parenting schedules.
15. If dating partner has children they should display a willingness to accept the children’s differences.
16. Willingness to participate in or refrain from family established rituals (holidays and birthdays etc.)
17. Ability to model appropriate adult behavior like expressing love for others, showing kindness, admitting mistakes, expressing anger maturely, asking for forgiveness, and avoiding inappropriate behaviors.

When children express a dislike towards the dating partner it presents a tricky situation. On one hand, it is important for parents to listen to concerns that their children raise about new partners. Dating after separation or divorce requires some caution on the part of adults. Take your children seriously. Gary Neuman, author of Helping Your Kids Cope with Divorce the Sandcastles Way offers a list of things for parents to pay attention to. If you learn that your new partner is doing any of the following, check it out. Children deserve to be comfortable and safe in their own home.

• Inappropriate teasing
• Taking on the role of disciplinarian
• Using nicknames that your child doesn’t like
• Pry, interfere, or offer unsolicited advice
• Enter your child’s room or other private space without permission
• Touch or interact with your child in a way that he/she finds uncomfortable, no matter how “innocent” it seems. This includes roughhousing, tickling, and wrestling etc.
• Break confidences and discuss inappropriate things with your child
• Attempt to coerce your child into doing anything he/she doesn’t want to do.

There is no need for parents to ask permission from your child or co-parent to date someone. When it comes to dating after separation or divorce, individual parents are the ones who know what is best for them if they understand the boundaries of responsible parenting. Putting your child or co-parent in the role of decision maker is not healthy or responsible.

On a final note any doubts the parent has in his or her own relationship with the dating partner will be reflected in the children’s relationship with this person. As humans our communication efforts are about 80% non-verbal (body position, gestures, facial expressions and vocalizations). Children pick up on these cues regarding the trust we have for the perspective dating partner. Children also listen intently even if it appears they are not listening. They hear comments made and process them at face value. Choosing a mate for oneself is complex and challenging enough, choosing a new parent for one’s children is much more serious. While dating and ultimately recommitting to a new relationship can help a separated or divorced parent regain hope and self-esteem, it may have challenges that can intensify or prolong the pain of the separation or divorce for the children. It is important to regularly evaluate the children’s needs and emotions. If the potential new mate understands these concerns and is able to help the separated or divorced parent through difficulties, the relationship can be one that eases the pain of the separation or divorce for everyone.